COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – When the Colorado Rapids went down to El Salvador to face Isidro Metapán on Sept. 28, a mostly reserve side without head coach Gary Smith was certainly the underdogs in their CONCACAF Champions League matchup. But they won 3-1.
Now, down 2-0 on aggregate to Sporting Kansas City in the Eastern Conference Semifinals after a loss on Sunday night at Dick's Sporting Good Park, they’re the underdogs to advance out of the two-leg series, particularly on the road. But you never know.
“El Salvador,” midfielder Wells Thompson said, “and now this.”
The similarities are striking. Colorado’s bench depth will be sorely tested at Livestrong Sporting Park Kosuke Kimura (fractured foot), Caleb Folan (twisted knee) and Drew Moor (separated shoulder) had to be taken off against SKC and look doubtful for Wednesday’s second leg. They’ll certainly be without defender Tyrone Marshall, who received a red card in the 57th minute, and were already coping with injuries to midfielders Pablo Mastroeni and Jamie Smith, who will also be unavailable.
“We just have to move on and hopefully go back there and stick it to them,” first-half substitute Macoumba Kandji said. “It’s definitely not over. We are going to go there flying because it may be our last game of the season or we can try to get a win and move on.”
The brutal schedule for the 2011 Rapids finally caught up with them Sunday night, said midfielder Brian Mullan who was reluctant to criticize the referee but expressed surprise at the relative lack of yellow cards for the visitors. Teal Bunbury’s 47th-minute caution was the only card received by Sporting on the night.
“Physicality is part of the game and it’s the ref’s job to dictate what’s within the rules,” Mullan said. “I don’t know how many fouls there were. He didn’t feel it was that physical. I’d be curious to see the ratio of fouls.”
Sporting Kansas City were called for 13 fouls, Colorado 10.
Gary Smith said the Kei Kamara incident towards the end of the first half could have changed the match. The Sporting Kansas City forward clearly lunged towards Miguel Comminges with his hand but the referee gave nothing.
“I am not going to say they were over the top, but I do feel that the referee may have contained some of the situations a little bit better,” the head coach said. “It’s the referee’s job to control events and to make sure the game is played in a sensible fashion. To have three guys stretchered off in a game is pretty strange. He missed one or two things that were glaring.”
Jeff Larentowicz said the setback was merely the first half. Now it’s time to roll up the sleeves with the few players that remain fit enough to play Wednesday in Kansas City.
“The task is there, the task is a good challenge,” he said.
And certainly not insurmountable. After all, road teams have been known to win in the playoffs before.
“It’s 180 minutes,” Larentowicz said. “They beat us two nothing here, right?”